Receiving a Google penalty warning can strike fear amongst digital marketers and webmaster’s alike, but it’s important to remember the silver lining. You have a clear indication that your websites profile has crossed over Google Webmaster regulations and in that respect at least you have hard evidence as to why your rankings may be affected, or in some cases if your website traffic has been drastically affected.
You also have a clear platform from which to start cleaning up your backlink profile, without fearing that removing some of the low quality links may affect your current rankings.
Interestingly, if companies are affected by penalty warnings, usually campaign budgets have to be increased in order to make up the deficit in natural search, usually being Google adwords!.. “Thanks Google for penalising me, now I am forced to look into a temporary solution to make up the lost revenue from my organic traffic” (am I the only one seeing a pattern?)
Using Google Analytics
So you have seen a drastic downturn in traffic to your site, or your rankings appear to have dropped off the face of search engines. First step is to diagnosis check your referrers in Google Analytics
Traffic sources -> Search ->Organic (select “source”)
…here selecting the “source” dimension you can clearly identify if search traffic has plummeted a huge drop off will usually indicate a penalty; further investigation into source type will again help distinguish a problem. The conclusion of this fall is usually a drop in rankings therefore less referral traffic from search engines. Furthermore, tools like http://www.panguintool.com/ will give clear insights whether Google algorithms have affected your traffic.
Checking indexed pages
There are some fantastic search query strings and this one is top dog, using the search query site:www.website.com will instantly give you a record of indexed pages in that particular search engine. If you have suspicions about your site then try the index search, if you’re only getting a handful of results from a substantial sized site, chances are you are probably running the risk of a penalty.
Google Webmaster Tools
Google webmaster tools, the first port of call really for any site issues, the beauty of this tool is it gives you a clear insight into how Google interprets your site. The closest you can get to the real thing. If you haven’t got this implemented already PLEASE DO SO! Some useful tools and tips in GWT include an inbox where Google Webmasters will notify you of unnatural link profile warnings and potential site issues (404, Google bot access, etc). Within webmaster tools navigating to:
Traffic -> Links to your site
Gives clear insights into poor link profiles, from here investigating the “who links the most” may give indications of abnormal volumes of poor referring sites. “how your data is linked” will give clear insights into over optimisation of target keyterms.
Anchor Text Distribution
Subscribing for a membership to backlink tools are really worth their weight in Gold, the data that MajesticSEO supplies for instance can be really helpful in diagnosing your site health. Using the site explorer function will give you some quick website diagnostics including anchor text distribution. This metric will give a tabular representation of how anchor text is linking to your site, if you’re noticing over optimised (non-branded) target terms as top referring anchor text chances are again your running the risk of a penalty.
Furthermore, the citation and trust flow representations will give a clear indication of poor quality link building for over optimised terms. Generally we can depict if the citation and trust flow are low this usually resembles poor referring domains. From here navigating to backlinks and investigating the flagged keyterm will start to build a clearer picture of bad link building activity.
Acting on penalties
Penalties are becoming so sophisticated now that warning messages can potentially identify a certain range of links as the problem. In some cases even the offending keyterms are being flagged as being the culprit of your penalty warning, making the backlink clear out a lot more black and white. However, if you aren’t so lucky a manual diagnosis is in order!
Using backlink tools like MajesticSEO or SEOMoz will allow you to build backlink reports, from here you can begin (with some excel magic) to dissect the top referring anchor texts to your site and ultimately detect your over optimised /culprit terms.
If it’s a case of poor link-building from low authority/ spammy sites this again can be flagged through webmaster tools in the “who links the most” section, unrelated domains with little or no relevance will stick out straight away and a little onsite investigation should allow you to make judgement whether is having a negative effect on your campaign.
Working from backlink reports like mentioned above, poor referring sites that may be having a detrimental effect can be usually identified by a series of pointers:
• Low authority score
• Large amounts of links from one domain
• Same or similar instances of exact match anchor text
If you need help with getting your head around Google link penalties or if your site is in need of a recovery plan then don’t forget to attend this years BrightonSEO workshop on Penalty Recovery – (April 11th).